WEST VIRGINIA—On Monday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced a new adaptation to the state’s color-coded school re-entry map.
The map which previously featured four color codes, that determined whether or not schools could host in-person instruction and if youth and high school sports could be played, has added a fifth color category to allow for more options when it comes to protocols depending on each county’s case numbers.
After last Saturday’s map was released, revealing that eight West Virginia counties fell within the orange or red status, which, in its current format, means schools within those zones must activate fully-virtual instruction, with no in-person learning or extracurricular activities permitted, the governor, along with state health, education and athletics experts met in an emergency meeting to discuss potential changes to the system.
“It’s plenty tough for everybody,” Gov. Justice voiced. “It's tough from a daycare issue. It's tough from an economic issue. It's tough for our parents who worry about sickness. It's tough for our numbers going up. It's tough for our medical teams. It's tough in every different way.”
Justice reaffirmed to the residents of the state that he is continuously working with top officials to be sure that the system works the absolute best if can for everyone.
“I can tell you this, I am trying with all my soul to continue to change and adapt this system to where it works the very best for all of us, where it keeps us safest and where it works in a better way for all of us,” he stated.
After the briefing, Justice met with experts to discuss the now fifth color and numerous other possible adjustments to the current system.
The meeting included leaders from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia National Guard, West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh and other members of the Governor’s staff, and reportedly went on well into the evening as experts deliberated a multitude of possibilities.
When the governor went live for his conference yesterday, he was pleased to reveal that after much consideration, Gold would be added to the color-coded system.
“Just because we had a good plan doesn’t mean we can’t make it better and better,” he commented.
Justice explained that the reason for this added color was that the delta between the minimum and maximum number of cases in the orange category was just too wide.
Previously the orange category was set for counties with 10-25 cases per 100,000 residents on a seven day rolling average.
“We just can’t treat a county with 11 cases the same as we would a county with 23 cases,” Justice voiced.
By inserting an additional color between yellow, and orange, officials are hoping to get more students safety back to school.
“We had 67,000 students not in school last week. 15,000 of those are special education students. If we safely can get some of those kids back in school should we not try to do just that,” he proposed.
Dr. Clay Marsh, Coronavirus Czar, further explained that adding the gold color separated the counties that are on the closer end to yellow from the counties that are on the closer to red.
In addition, Marsh shared that a percent positive rate, on a seven day rolling average will also be added to each county’s data.
“So now there will be two ways for a county that is in orange to move into gold; having a decline in either their infection rates or their percentage positive rate dropping below five percent,” he said.
“We believe these tweaks will help get our children back in school, keep them safe in the schools, but also be an incentive to test more and be able to identify the people that are inadvertently spreading COVID-19 in our state,” Marsh added.
The newly added Gold category will apply to counties that have between 10-14.9 cases of infection per 100,000 or a 5 percent or less positivity rate, on a rolling seven day average.
Counties that fall within Gold will be permitted to hold in-person instruction, however exposure will be kept very limited and no assemblies or large group gathering will be permitted.
Additionally, face masks will be required at all times for grades 3-12 and any athletic events or extracurriculars may only be attended by parents/guardians, cheerleaders and bands may only participate at home games. Schools within the Gold zones are only permitted to compete in-county or with other gold counties.
In order to make these adjustments slight changes were made to the protocols for the yellow and orange categories, as well.
These changes can be found by visiting, https://wvde.us/school-reentry-metrics-protocols/.